Devs debate Adobe Flash 'speed tax'

Premium features to require revenue sharing

Adobe has come under fire for announcing that ‘premium features’ of Flash will require a license from August. A press release stated that apps generating over $50,000 will be liable for nine per cent in revenue sharing after taxes, payment processing fees and social network platform fees.

Adobe added that said licensing will only be needed when both ApplicationDomain.domainMemory and Stage3D.request3DContext are used. However, lead developer Nicolas Cannasse said in a blog post that the plans amount to a speed tax. Within, he argued Adobe wasn’t providing real ‘premium features’ to games developers, and was instead restricting access to Alchemy opcodes that boost performance.

Speaking to .net, Cannasse said Adobe’s business model was to sell tools for a fixed price, but it’s now switching to a revenue-sharing model, which will badly hurt small- and medium-sized studios: “Currently this only applies to 3D content used together with specific features, but these were used by many developers and third-party tools such as Unity3D Flash exporter, to speed up Flash Player. This was necessary because Flash Player is slow for some tasks, in particular manipulating large amounts of data, required when making 3D games.”

Paying for speed

Cannasse reiterated to us that Adobe’s announcement amounts to a tax on speed – in order to get the best Flash performance, developers will have to pay Adobe a share of revenues. “This will really hurt the confidence developers had in Adobe and prevent many people from making 3D games and apps using Flash,” he argued. And while some have said Adobe’s at least demanding less than Apple’s 30 per cent App Store cut, Cannasse thought “Adobe is providing no real additional service for their share – it’s just limiting the performances of its player."

But not everyone is incensed by Adobe. Freelance Flash games developer Iain Lobb told us that “you now pretty much have to forget everything you know about Flash,” and that the old community has mostly switched to JavaScript or iOS and old business models have vanished as clients demand interactive sites that work on tablets and mobile.

“It's a new world! Only the game development side is really going strong, and Adobe's problem is that it doesn’t get revenue from some of the most successful Flash content, such as Facebook games like Farmville,” explained Lobb. “Most developers are using open source tools such as FlashDevelop and the open source compiler, so Adobe probably isn’t even getting as much revenue from Flash Professional as it once was.”

The future of Flash

The inference is clear: without coming up with new revenue sources, Adobe would have little incentive to maintain Flash, which would impact more heavily on developers than the reality of a revenue share. “And so now Adobe will take a nine per cent cut of revenues over $50,000 from any game that uses both Stage3D and fast memory access – but you pay nothing if it uses either feature alone,” said Lobb, who reasoned Adobe’s real aim is probably to grab a share of profits from future in-browser MMO/social games built with Unity3D and Unreal. “Unfortunately, the collateral damage is devs already using both these features together, such as some of the haXe guys and other pioneering low-level Flash hackers. But as much as they complain, this decision doesn't actually affect most developers, and personally I feel better knowing that Flash is a going concern for Adobe, not something the company is about to abandon.”

However, Jonathan Moore, founder of Style Hatch & New Ezra told us Adobe's new stance might instead hasten the end of Flash: "Its new tax will affect very few companies and Flash developers, but it represents a shift in direction for Adobe. By targeting the top tier users with and additional expense, I imagine Adobe will help fuel the creation and adoption of hardware acceleration directly in the browser. The other impact, and possibly more damaging, is what this change communicates to typical Flash developers. Is Adobe going to focus more on top tier features? How will yet another PR mess affect my client's perception of Flash?"

"Data Transfer" image from Bigstock.